Friday 21 April 2006

The largest service provider in the land

Who is the largest provider of customer service in Botswana? Who has the largest number of customer facing staff, the biggest budget for service delivery and the greatest obligation to deliver top-quality service?

Botswana Power? They employ a couple of thousand people. No, not them. BTC? They’re pretty big. Water Utilities? No. Nor is it any of the banks, not any chain of supermarkets or filling stations.

The largest customer service provider in the country is the Government. Employing well over 100,000 people surely they must have the largest obligation to deliver top-quality customer service in the country. Don’t they?

Well, OK, not everyone in government is customer facing. We can exclude the BDF for instance. Their customer care skills are necessarily a little, well, “forceful”. I’m not sure we should complain about that although last time I was stopped at a checkpoint manned by the BDF they were very friendly.

And err…. who else is there that DOESN’T deliver a service to us, the people, the taxpayers? I can’t think of anyone else actually. Let’s go through the professions, the Ministries, the departments.

Our teachers and police clearly deliver a service to us. They are obvious examples.

Then there are the various departments in government who deal with the general public as the very nature of their work. In no particular order I can think of the following departments that are meant to deliver a service to us. DCEC, BURS, Culture & Youth, Civil & National Registration, Sports & Recreation, Immigration & Citizenship, National Museum, Prisons (yes, in an indirect sort of way!), Industrial Affairs, Consumer Affairs, Department of Roads, Road Transport & Safety, Water Affairs, all of the Ministry of Health, Administration of Justice, all the Embassies and High Commissions, the Ombudsman, Lands & Housing, Broadcasting Services, BTV, RB1 and RB2, Wildlife & National Parks, Sanitation and Waste Management, Meteorological Services and the Industrial Court.

All of these deliver service at some point to you and me. Whether it’s directly like the National Museum and BURS or indirectly like the Department of Roads their role in life is to deliver services to us. After all (and this may be a slightly radical idea for some people in Government) we are the ones who pay their salaries. Don’t forget that every one of us now pays tax to government. We may not all pay income tax but all of us pay VAT sooner or later.

My question is this. Why are they so terrible at it?

I’m the first to say that there are some seriously talented people working in Government but why is good customer service from the frontline staff so incredibly rare? Why is it that whenever we are forced to deal with some of these departments we come away either depressed or furious? Or both.

In much of the customer care development work we undertake with organisations we talk about the transformation they need to undergo towards being “customer centric”. To move away from employing a few people who try to fix things after they’ve gone wrong to a culture where everyone has responsibility for ensuring customers are satisfied. A culture where everyone recognises the part they play either in satisfying customers themselves or helping someone else to do so.

Can this ever happen with Government? Yes, I think it can. Hard work though.

So who’s responsible for dragging Government into this new customer-focussed culture? Well, the Permanent Secretary to the President is always on about productivity improvements, more enlightened ways of working and so on. Whole teams of people are working on performance improvement. So is it their responsibility? I don’t think so.

I’m certainly not saying that the work they are doing isn’t worth it. I think it’s fantastic that there are some people in Government who want to improve things. But fundamentally it’s not their responsibility.

It’s ours.

I really do think that it’s up to us to start demanding exactly the same sorts of service from Government staff as we expect from a bank or a supermarket.

Why can’t we expect the basics from them, like a smile, basic courtesy and a demonstration that they understand who the customer and supplier are? Perhaps also some evidence that they recognise that they are not law makers or law enforcers. Their role is to do things, not to dictate rules.

But our policy is always rather than just criticise, let’s start celebrating those people in government who do get it right. They do exist, honestly. Trust me. At our birthday party we celebrated three government employees and three police officers. All of them had gone the extra mile to make our callers and readers happy.

But we want more. Who do you know who does an excellent job dealing with customers in Government? Let us know!

This week’s stars!

  • Brian and the team at Broadhurst Motors for going beyond the call of duty to get a problem fixed.
  • Annah at Stanbic Bank Industrial Branch for being really pleasant and helpful.
  • Modiri at Barloworld Motors for being really friendly and welcoming and being proactive when it comes to service.
  • Loungo at FNB Head Office for making sure a problem was fixed quickly and efficiently and with a smile
  • Selotegeng at BTC installation department for being diligent and making sure deadlines are met.
  • Jafta the Security Officer at BAMB for outstanding service. He is really friendly, pays attention to detail and although he has to search bags and asks questions always does so politely and with great courtesy. Our listener says he gives a good name to the security industry.
  • Wesley at Gaborone Delta for going beyond the call of duty to get a problem fixed.
  • Lesego at Plascon Paints for being wonderfully proactive, friendly, helpful and efficient.

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